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See why the stunning Blue Spring State Park on the St. John’s River is a winter haven for hundreds of marine mammals.
And not just any marine mammals but Manatee!
Every winter, as the sea waters cool, nearly 500 West Indian Manatee living at sea will head to Florida’s Blue Spring State Park. The steady 72-degree spring water is the perfect place for these slow-moving sea cows to wait out the colder water temperatures from November to February.
Blue Spring State Park boasts a 1/3-mile boardwalk for visitors to view these peaceful creatures in the sparkling, pure spring water. As a designated manatee refuge, this area also serves as an educational hub for researchers and conservationists and is vital in the preservation efforts of the species. The work performed at Blue Spring State Park has contributed greatly to the continued growth of the manatee population.
Blue Spring State Park encompasses 2,643-acres and hosts a thriving ecosystem and habitat for a wide variety of native species, including over 15 on the threatened or endangered species lists. The crystal-clear spring and St. Johns River is well inhabited with fish and turtles.
You’ll want to keep your eyes peeled around the lagoon shores for heron and other members of the park’s diverse waterfowl population. Gopher tortoises and black bears can also be seen exploring the lush terrain!
And don’t forget your binoculars!
Kingfishers, eagles, and osprey may also be seen soaring over the park, as well as the Florida scrub-jay, making the park a popular destination for birders.
What to Wear
Situated in Orange City, just north of Orlando, Blue Creek State Park has some of the best weather Florida has to offer. With an average high near 70 degrees from November to January, the winter months are a perfect time to explore the park’s outdoor activity options.
As always, Florida is prone to short, pop-up showers so a jacket and comfortable footwear is a good idea to bring along. However, Florida is still the sunshine state so don’t forget your shades!
Planning Your Stay at Blue Spring State Park
- Blue Springs State Park is open 365 days a year
- $6 per vehicle admission
- Park can reach capacity, so arrive early
- Manatee can be seen November – March
- And from mid-November through February, Blue Spring State Park offers a special manatee program for those wanting to learn more about different species of manatee.
Blue Springs State Park is open all year round and the $6 per vehicle admission allows for an affordable, family experience. The park often reaches capacity, even during the winter months so planning to arrive as close to the 8 am opening time is wise. If you’re planning to see the Manatee be sure you plan your visit November-March!
Given the cool nights of Florida winters, one of the park’s six cabins may be your best bet over tent camping. The cabins feature two bedrooms, accommodate six guests, and are walking distance to the spring. The central heating and gas fireplace makes this a cozy option for spending winter evenings in the park. Boasting a full kitchen and grill, the cabins make mealtimes at the park fun and convenient. Cabins may be booked online or by phone up to 11 months in advance of your visit.
If you’re up for an adventure, affordable campsites for tent or RV camping with electricity and water hookups are also available year-round. This popular option fills quickly and may be booked online up to 11 months in advance.
- Campsites are a short walk to the spring
- Feature centrally located showers and restrooms
- Pet-friendly accommodations
- Washer and dryers available at several locations
For those wanting more modern lodging, there are several area hotels within a few miles of the park. Less than a ten-minute drive away, the family-run and very popular Alling House Bed and Breakfast offers a quaint option with three guest rooms and five cottages. There are also many options on home rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO within convenient driving distance to the park for travelers looking for more spacious options.
Explore Blue Spring State Park
With so many options to explore, your visit can be as relaxing or as active as you desire. Now, let’s explore getting around Blue Spring State Park.
Daily, narrated boat ecotours, offered by St. Johns River Cruises, are a great option for those wanting to kick back and take in the sights along the waterways. This two-hour river cruise embarks twice daily and should be reserved in advance of your visit by phone or online.
For those wanting to discover the wonders of the waterways on their own, canoe and kayak rentals are available. To protect the safe haven of the spring, paddling is allowed on the river only during the winter months. The required lifejackets are provided and canoes and both single and tandem kayaks are available. Lockers are available to rent in the gift shop to keep your valuables safe while you explore.
Exploring the park by land is made safe and accessible by the park’s well-maintained paths and boardwalk. Observe the different plant systems throughout the park by bringing your hiking boots or your bike and taking on the 3.6-mile Pine Island Hiking Trail. Or take a relaxing walk along the tree-lined boardwalk and observe the animals in the Blue Spring Run.
Want a more unique approach to exploring the park?
Guided, Segway tours are also available through St. Johns River Cruises. These two-hour, off-road tours offer a one-of-a-kind experience into an area of the park restricted from normal park visitors. Reservations must be made in advance to ensure a guide is available and tryout sessions are available prior to the trip.
History at Blue Spring State Park
With so many options it’s hard to remember that this area is also filled with a rich history.
The Thursby House sits within the park and is a must-see! Built by one of the area’s first European settlers during the Steamboat Era, the house is now a museum and interpretive center. The area has a rich Native American history as well, with many archeological middens within the grounds. Be sure to check out the interpretive exhibits in the house and on kiosks on the boardwalk to learn about the generations of inhabitants that have lived on the lands.
Dining at Blue Spring State Park
Pack a Picnic, Grab Lunch at the Park, or Explore Local Options
Picnicking is made convenient at the park for those wishing to plan ahead. While the three covered pavilions are first-come, first-served, there are many other places to picnic throughout the park. Grills are also available in the two picnic areas and at many sites around the park and campgrounds for those wanting to barbecue.
There are two options on-site for grabbing a quick bite to eat. Located conveniently off the boardwalk, The Camp Store features a deli with a variety of sandwiches and a large selection of ice cream novelties. The Manatee Outpost is another satisfying lunch choice offering an assortment of healthy wrap options, hot dogs, and dessert choices that will keep everyone in the family fed and happy.
If you’re willing to expand your dining options outside of the park, there are many popular restaurants nearby. From pizza at Goodfella’s to burgers at Swamp House, there is a wide variety of local favorites within a few miles of the park. Saki Thai and Mi Tierra offer options for those looking to experience more global cuisine.
Make sure to record your memories and share them with us!
Blue Spring State Park is ripe with countless nature photo opportunities, from wildlife in its natural habitat to Florida’s exotic fauna. Make sure to use the #FLStateParks in your Instagram posts and your photo could be featured on the Florida State Park page!
In addition to remembering to take lots of photos throughout your visit, don’t forget to stop by the park gift shop for a souvenir to remember your trip! There are also many, adorable manatee themed gift options. The cozy shop features a fireplace and is conveniently located just off the boardwalk.
There is a reason this scenic park consistently draws so many visitors each year! The combination of rich history, unique ecological experiences, and range of dining and activity options make it a wonderful winter getaway for the entire family.
Make sure to plan ahead and take advantage of all the remarkable experiences Blue Spring State Park has to offer!